By John Perrotto
Washington DC — They weren’t Steven Strasburg but Mike Lincoln and Jose Tabata weren’t so bad in making their major-league debuts with the Pirates on Wednesday night.
Lincoln started and got a no-decision in a 7-5 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington. He allowed five runs, all earned despite some suspect defense behind him, and seven hits in six innings with two walks and three strikeouts.
Tabata played left field and batted leadoff, going 2-for-4 with two singles, a walk, a stolen base and a run scored. He was removed from the game after flying out in the top of the eighth inning because of a cramp in his right hamstring, which could sideline him for two games.
Both Lincoln and Tabata were recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis earlier in the day, continuing a youth movement that started two weeks when Neil Walker was called up from the top farm club and installed as the second baseman. Indianapolis third baseman Pedro Alvarez figures to be the next prospect called up, possibly by the end of the month.
Lincoln and Tabata’s debut came a night after Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg struck out 14 Pirates in his first major-league game.
Lincoln served up a two-run home run to Adam Dunn in the first inning and the Nationals scored three runs in the fifth to move ahead 5-4 as third baseman Andy LaRoche, shortstop Ronny Cedeno and right fielder Lastings Milledge all failed to make plays. Lincoln was encouraged by his first outing.
“It was awesome,” Lincoln said. “It’s something that I’ve looked forward to for a long time now and it was really exciting. I was happy I was able to keep the team in the game. It’s a good way to start and now I want to build on it.”
Lincoln threw 86 pitches, 51 for strikes. His fastball averaged 92 mph, his changeup 84 and his curveball 81.
However, Lincoln was far from dominant as the Nationals had well-hit balls in nine of their 25 at-bats against him. His fastball was also left wanting as the Nationals went 7-for-18 against the heater and put the ball in play in 17 of their 26 swings against it. Furthermore, Lincoln threw 41 pitches out of the strike zone but enticed the Nationals to swing at only seven.
Meanwhile, Tabata showed good patience for a 21-year-old in his major-league debut as he saw 20 pitches in his five plate appearances. He beat out an infield single to shortstop in the first inning; flied out to right field in the second; had another infield single to third base in the fourth then stole second and scored on Walker’s single; walked on a full count in the fifth and flied to right in the eighth.
“Jose did what he does so well, which is get on base at the top of the order,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “We feel he can be an exciting player.”
Excitement was indeed the word of the night for the Pirates, even though they lost their fourth straight game to drop into last place in the National League Central, ½-game behind the Houston Astros with a 23-36 record.
“Watching Brad and Jose make this step is what we’ve been building for these last few years, not getting guys in trade who could help us now but also getting guys who we felt could contribute down the road,” Russell said. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction. It’s exciting.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates since 1988 and is the editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times.